Ecuadorian defender faces new legal accusations

ARTICLE | 10 March 2020

Union leader and human rights defender Jorge Acosta faces new legal accusations in Ecuador, related to his reports on labour rights issues in the banana sector. Swedwatch calls on companies purchasing bananas to use their leverage and demand fair treatment for Acosta.

Jorge Acosta is the coordinator of the banana workers’ union ASTAC (Asociación Sindical de Trabajadores Agrícolas y Campesinos), which organises around 1,500 workers across Ecuador. For more than a decade, ASTAC has highlighted labour rights, health and safety issues and environmental impacts related to the banana sector.

On 7 February 2020, Acosta was arrested and detained for several hours after having requested court documents from a case related to the dismissal of banana workers attempting to form a trade union, according to ASTAC. He was accused of violating a judge’s privacy when he insisted the documents were public and subsequently tried to film the response of a judge when his request was denied.

Acosta’s hearing is scheduled for 11 March 2020 at Unidad Penal de Babahoyo, in Babahoyo, the capital of Ecuador’s Los Ríos province. If found guilty, he faces up to three years in jail.

It is not the first time that Jorge Acosta has faced legal accusations related to his work. In April 2019 a complaint filed by a private individual accused him of “creating economic panic”, a charge that carries up to seven years in prison. Following public and international pressure, including from companies importing bananas from Ecuador, the charges were never pressed.

The accusations against Acosta exemplify a global trend towards the silencing of human rights defenders through strategic lawsuits.

Although some problems in the banana sector in Ecuador have been successfully addressed, such as the occurrence of under-age workers, many human rights challenges remain as reported by several national and international civil society organizations.

In a joint response to the allegations made towards Acosta, six Nordic companies published a letter to the Ecuadorian Government on 5 March 2020 underlining the important role played by defenders such as Jorge Acosta and asking that he be treated fairly. Swedwatch welcomes this initiative, and urges other companies purchasing bananas from Ecuador to make public their positions regarding defenders’ rights – and this specific case – to their suppliers and Ecuadorian authorities, in line with the UNHRC resolution, and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.